It's not just humans who use Telstra's Next G mobile network to place calls and share data. Increasingly, inanimate objects such as cars, vending machines and even digital photo frames are doing the same. And Telstra hopes they will do it even more.
The company this week launched a new control centre allowing customers to more easily design, deploy and manage mobile connections between non-human systems, known as "machine to machine" (M2M) connections.
The technology allows SIM mobile chips and transmitters to be embedded in devices and transmit data without human interaction. A vending machine, for example, could automatically notify a soft drink manufacturer when it needed a refill, or a picture frame could automatically download new photos and display them as they were uploaded to Flickr.
Telstra has been providing M2M services for some time, its biggest customer has close to 100,000 SIMs deployed.
But this week Telstra unveiled a new partnership with US-based company Jasper Wireless to launch the portal and revamp the way it handles SIMs to be used for M2M purposes.
Previously, Telstra had required each individual SIM to be activated in much the same way that mobile phone SIMs are used. However, now the telco will allow customers to purchase SIMs in bulk that are pre-prepared for M2M purposes. No interaction with Telstra's systems will be required to activate them.
The telco's director of M2M products and partnerships, Mike Cihra, said right now the M2M market was worth about $300 million in Australia annually but Telstra expects it to breach $1 billion over the next four years. And Telstra wants a big slice of that pie.
"What we need to do is put a big sign out the front saying Telstra is open for business, we are the default provider," he told journalists last week.
Telstra's director of its Enterprise and Government division, John Paitaridis, said the existing sectors interested in M2M devices were areas such as manufacturing, logistics, transportation, healthcare, utilities and security.
But new markets were also opening up, he said, for example with relation to e-reader and GPS navigation devices, vending machines, picture frames and so on.
Customers previously had a limited ability to manage their remote SIMs, said Paitaridis, but the Jasper portal would change that. And Telstra is opening the application programming interface to its system and providing small M2M kits so that even small software developers can get involved.
Telstra has also revamped its bulk billing plans to fit the new M2M paradigm. For example, it now has $1500 for 30GB a month plan, which includes as many SIMs as users want, along with a smaller $200 for 2GB plan. The developer kit goes for $199, which includes three test SIMs and 50MB of data over a six-month period.